Want to beat inflation at the grocery store? There’s an app for that.
A whole bunch of apps, actually. I use about a half-dozen (some more regularly than others) to cut costs, and to get free or nearly free items.
Some apps give you money, and some give points to trade for gift cards. Either way, it means getting the things you need cheaper, or even free.
Can you fill your pantry this way? Maybe! Sure, there are a lot of sweets and treats up for grabs, but also staples like flour, canned beans, milk, coffee, rice, yogurt, pasta sauce, frozen veggies and condiments. Non-food stuff, too, such as laundry and cleaning supplies, toiletries, baby needs, beauty products and pet items.
Here’s a look at how these apps work, followed by tips on how to leverage the best deals for the least work.
How it works: Shopkick gives points called “kicks” for scanning items, buying items and doing similar tasks. Sometimes you get 10 to 100 kicks just for walking into a store.
My experience: It’s probably my favorite app on this list because I don’t necessarily have to buy something to get points.
Best for: Everyone, because it’s so easy.
Pro tip: Sometimes the number of kicks you earn for a particular task will go up without warning — say, from 10 to 50 — so check the app daily. If you were planning to shop anyway, why not go right now and get more points for the same deals?
2. Fetch Rewards
How it works: You earn points for scanning any kind of receipt — supermarket, drugstore, restaurant, etc.
My experience: What I love about Fetch Rewards is that it takes receipts from anywhere. It also lets you link your Amazon account and your email account; the app scans for receipts from both places when you press the “eReceipt” button.
Best for: People who are flexible about brand loyalty, since you get extra rewards for items from Fetch Rewards’ retail partners — for example, choosing Pepsi over Coke. It’s also great for people who buy lots of stuff because, as noted, you can scan just about any receipt.
Pro tip: Seriously, Fetch Rewards really will take any receipt that shows a date, amount paid and company name. I’ve scanned movie tickets, a gas-company payment and the credit card receipt from my partner’s medical treatment.
How it works: You can earn cash rebates by activating offers with the touch of a button, then scanning your receipt. Then trade in rebates for gift cards or cash (via PayPal or direct deposit).
My experience: Ibotta has “free after rebate” deals regularly, and it has given me a lot of cash back.
I love combining Ibotta offers with deals from other apps. For example, recently I treated my niece and her kids to half a dozen free containers of Talenti gelato (the good stuff!) by stacking Ibotta rebates and Fetch Rewards points — meaning I earned both on a single transaction.
Best for: People who want cold, hard cash as an option or who, like me, want to stack the rewards with other deals.
Pro tip: Choosing to redeem your cash rebates in the form of a PayPal or direct deposit, as opposed to a gift card, can help you shore up your budget against inflation.
4. Magic Receipts
My experience: Magic Receipts is easy to use, and loads of deals are up for grabs.
Best for: People who want the most reward options; Swagbucks, InboxDollars and MyPoints offer a ton of choices.
Pro tip: Haven’t bought any of the offers you selected? Scan anyway, because you’ll likely get two points just for shopping.
How it works: Download the Coupons.com app, then get cash back by scanning both the receipts and the UPCs of the items you buy. If you link the app to your loyalty accounts with particular grocery chains, you get cash back instantly, without scanning.
My experience: Easy to use, and the cash lands in your PayPal account very fast.
Best for: Those organized enough to remember they need to scan an item’s UPC (unless they link their store loyalty accounts). If you use and toss items before applying for cash back, you’re out of luck.
Pro tip: Using in-store discounts or manufacturer coupons may void your cash back.
6. Receipt Hog
How it works: Scan receipts from supermarkets, big-box retailers and Amazon.
My experience: Simple (and fun) to use.
Best for: Those who don’t expect a variety of rewards, as Receipt Hog offers only Amazon, PayPal or a Visa prepaid cards.
Pro tip: Bonuses are awarded if you upload receipts every week. Also, don’t forget to tap the “Hog Slots” button now and then, to try to win extra points on a cartoon slot machine.
7. Checkout 51
How it works: Earn cash back by selecting offers for products and scanning your receipts.
My experience: Checkout 51 is simple and straightforward, but it has offers for fewer products than the other apps.
Best for: People who are patient, because you have to earn $20 worth of rebates to cash in. (In that regard, it’s the most restrictive of all the apps I use.)
Pro tip: Offers change weekly, so don’t delay if you see a good deal, especially in combination with other apps.
A few more pro tips
A smart shopper will combine offers for the best prices. For example, I might scan and buy a product with Shopkick, then send away for rebates from Ibotta and Checkout 51.
Recently, I’ve gotten Oikos yogurt, Mentos sugar-free gum, Talenti gelato, Sara Lee turkey breast and Malt-O-Meal cereal for free — and sometimes I even made money on the deals.
More best practices:
Look before you buy, though. I check CouponMom.com on Sundays. But if I’m shopping midweek, I run product names through the apps in case a new chance to save has popped up. Deals are added all the time, so it’s worth the search.
Create a scan habit. Apps that have you scan receipts tend to have a time limit — generally, within 14 days of purchase — so if you snooze, you lose. I scan as soon as I get home from the store.
Refer your friends. You’ll get points when they join, so spread the news.
Cash in regularly. Why pay out of pocket? Always have gift cards ready in the app, in case you need to run to the grocery store. Or to any other store: My partner and I have used more than $150 worth of Lowe’s and Home Depot gift cards on supplies for our 2022 food garden.
Weigh the rewards. A $5 gift card from Fetch Rewards costs 5,000 points. Compare that to a $5 card from Shopkick (1,250 points), Receipt Hog (1,000) or Magic Receipts through Swagbucks (500). However, since some apps have rewards options that others don’t, you might have to go with the more “expensive” app. Pay attention, though. For example, a $10 AMC gift card is 1,000 points with Magic Receipts through Swagbucks, but it’s 2,500 points with Shopkick and 10,000 points with Fetch Rewards.
Share the wealth. Lately there’s been a super Shopkick deal: 800 points (the equivalent of $3.20) to buy Malt-O-Meal cereal. Thus far, I’ve bought and donated a dozen bags of it to a local food bank. And when I say “bought,” I mean that I paid with Walmart gift cards that I got from Shopkick. Not that you have to donate. A deal like this one could be a major budget boost for parents, or for non-parents who happen to like Marshmallow Mateys.